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Senate passes bill to extend disability benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans

The Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a bill to extend disability benefits to thousands of veterans who served on Navy ships in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

"These brave Americans risked their lives serving our country, but because they served with boots aboard ships instead of boots on the ground, they've been denied simple justice, year after year," U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement after Senate passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.

Blue Water Navy vets initially were granted recognition and compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, which presumed certain diseases resulted from exposure to dioxins and other herbicide agents during military service in Vietnam. In 2002, the VA reinterpreted the legislation to apply only to veterans who served in the inland rivers or set foot in Vietnam, stripping away benefits from sailors who were stationed in the territorial seas and are known as "Blue Water" Navy veterans.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled overwhelmingly for these vets, finding they are eligible for the same disability benefits as those who put boots on the ground or patrolled Vietnam's inland rivers. That reversed a decade-old ruling by the court. A court majority said Congress clearly intended to extend benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans.

Congress has tried for years to extend benefits to this group of veterans but those efforts had stalled. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and four former secretaries opposed the legislation, citing cost and the need for further study.

The bill, which passed the House in May, now awaits action by the president.


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